I've Been Consulted by Franklin D
|Friday, 5 July 2013 - Photo by Andrea Steindorf|
As I've said too many times to count, the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library in Hyde Park, NY is one of my favorite spots this side of the Milky Way. Since I live slightly less than forty miles from the place getting there is not too big a hassle for me. The museum has been closed down for several months for renovations and was reopened to the public last week. That was as good an excuse as any to head back up there. On Friday, July 5, my friend Andrea Steindorf and I spent a few hours jamming with the Frankster.
If you've even visited the FDR Library recently, it's time to head back up there. The refurbished museum is something to behold - particularly the new audio/video presentations. That's one of the truly remarkable things about living in "modern times". As much as we know about the life of Abraham Lincoln we can only take a wild guess as to what he sounded like; all that remains of him are frozen, ghostly images. Even his smile is lost to history. Not true with FDR. Less than two years from now will mark the seventieth anniversary of his passing, and yet thanks to the miracle of recorded sound and the motion picture, we can see him throw back his head in delight. We can hear the magnificent voice that reassured an economically paralyzed nation in its darkest, most desperate hour. Franklin D. Roosevelt lives.
It was said of him at the time of his death on April 12, 1945, although he never regained the use of his legs - much as he wanted to, much as he tried - he taught a crippled nation how to walk again. Have I mentioned that he's my favorite president?
Ironically, America has forgotten the walking lessons that were provided to to us by Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the New Deal. There are too few people left alive today who have a conscious memory of the living, breathing FDR. Consider this: My mother will be eighty-two years old on August 5. When Roosevelt died she hadn't yet entered high school. The youngest person to cast his or her vote for him on Election Day 1932 would today be one-hundred-and-one years old. That is, I believe, one of the reasons America finds itself in the slump that it's in today. We don't remember the economic lessons taught to us so long ago by the men (and one woman - Francis Perkins) that comprised the Roosevelt cabinet - the "Brain Trust" as they were called by the press of that time.
Whenever people come up to me bitching and wailing about the "extreme liberalism" of the Obama administration (and it happens damned-near everyday) I always have to restrain myself from slapping the silly bastards upside the head for no other reason than their abysmal lack of historical knowledge. The very notion of Barack Obama as a "wild-eyed socialist" (as he is constantly portrayed by the right wing media) doesn't even come close to passing the giggle test. Franklin Roosevelt wasn't merely a "liberal" - he was a radical. He's also on every list compiled by historians as one of the greatest presidents in the history of this damaged republic. Some place him second only to Lincoln; others put him at the top. That's not a coincidence. The vanishing middle class (which until only recently we took for granted in this country) didn't even exist when Roosevelt was inaugurated on March 4, 1933. I often wonder what this place would look like had Herbert Hoover won that election. I get the dry heaves just thinking about it.
"Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate of me - and I welcome their hatred."
Franklin D. Roosevelt
Campaign of 1936
"We gain strength, and courage, and confidence by each experience in which we really stop to look fear in the face....we must do that which we think we cannot."
Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt did indeed have a perfectly radical idea. It was their belief that the whole purpose of representation in Washington was not merely to declare war and pass bad laws. They wanted a government that was in partnership with the people. As a result of their vision, they changed the sociological face of the United States forever. Today the right wing wants us to swallow the notion that "government is the problem" and that it should be done away with. We should be seeking the perfection of government - not its abolition.
On the night of his election in 1932 he asked his son, Jimmy, to pray for him. "I've always been afraid of only one thing - fire" he told the young man, "Now I'm afraid of something else."
What's that, Father?" asked Jimmy.
"I'm afraid I won't have the strength to do the job."
He had the strength. Lucky us.
No Ordinary Time
by Doris Kearns-Goodwin
The best book ever written about life in the Roosevelt White House. It sometimes reads like the plot of a screwball comedy! If it's not available from your friendly, independently-owned, neighborhood bookstore (There must be at lease one left!) here's a link to order it off Amazon.com:
No Ordinary Time
It's a great read - every page of it.
He spoke to us then; he speaks to us still. It doesn't get any better than the Frankster. Seriously.
A special word of thanks to Ranger Ken Slinger who gave Andrea and I the tour of the mansion. I learned a couple of things that even I didn't know.